Álvaro Siza’s Career Comes Alive in Porto

The Pritzker Prize laureate reveals an extension to his Museu Serralves that houses a vast trove of sketches, models, paintings, and notes from his seven-decade oeuvre. It’s even shaped like one of his sculptures.

Photography by Filipe Braga

In a 1986 profile, Casabella magazine likened Álvaro Siza’s architecture to “the unfolding of an authentic design adventure.” Decades later, even after the Portuguese architect and Pritzker Prize laureate turned 90 years old, he still creates buildings with freedom and freshness. Look no further than the newly opened wing of Museu Serralves, the Porto museum he designed in 1999 and to which he added a series of expansions within Serralves Park—the Manoel de Oliveira Cinema House, the Gardeners’ House, and the Serralves Art Déco Villa—in the years since. The new three-story wing gracefully juts out of the original structure in a branch-like form, signifying the once-obscure Siza’s global influence and a natural evolution for the museum, which expands its gallery space by 50 percent.

Designed in the same white-washed reinforced concrete as the original building, the newly christened Álvaro Siza Wing adjoins so seamlessly that visitors may not even realize they’ve wandered into the addition. They may also be entranced by playfully placed windows streaming in warm rays of sunlight that strategically avoid sensitive artworks. An abundance are on display, from a selection that museum director Philippe Vergne pulled from the permanent collection to the groundbreaking “Coleção Álvaro Siza, Arquivo,” which brings seven decades of his work to light. It encompasses more than 800 drawings, sculptures, and paintings that elucidate his idiosyncratic approach to projects both finished and unfinished, ranging from the Expo ’98 Portuguese National Pavilion to the Centro Paroquial church in his hometown of Matosinhos. Models seemingly float like apparitions mid-gallery thanks to mirrored plinths.

Photography by FG+SG and Filipe Braga

The show reveals a side of Siza that even the most seasoned connoisseurs may have never seen. Thanks to a donation from his sister Teresa and collaborator Carlos Castanheiro, some of the architect’s earliest paintings are on view; they span expressive portraits of his relatives to dreamy pastoral scenes that lend context to the scope of his architecture. Timber sculptures, not unlike the gestural figures he showed at the Vatican City pavilion at the 2023 Venice Biennale, reveal how his architecture and art practices intertwine—one even resembles the new wing’s footprint from a bird’s-eye view.

In August, when the show closes, the galleries will present architecture-themed exhibitions in perpetuity, but his vast archive will remain on the lowest level. Siza planned to donate it to the Canadian Centre for Architecture, but agreed to keep it close to home if he could design the expansion to his standards. “With a wing dedicated to the Permanent Collection and Architecture, the Serralves Museum is more than ever an institution where the present is fully activated and where the recent past is settled and decanted,” Vergne says. “It allows the institution to fully take responsibility for its history and legacy, as well as for its role as the leading institution in Portugal dedicated to the history and the present of contemporary art and culture.”

Photography by Filipe Braga

C.A.S.A Coleção Álvaro Siza, Arquivo” will be on display at Museu Serralves (R. Dom João de Castro 210, 4150-417 Porto) until Aug. 24.

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